Everybody experiences anxious feelings at some point in their life. For many people, anxiety can be frequent. Over 40 million adults in the US experience anxiety¹ disorders. That’s just over 19% of US adults, making anxiety disorders one of the most common mental health issues in the US.
Anxiety disorders also affect children and teens. In the US, 7% of people aged 3–17 experience issues with anxiety every year.
Anxiety is a mental health issue, but it can also affect your physical health. If you’re finding it difficult to relieve your anxiety, read on for 13 scientifically proven ways to bring calm to your anxious mind and body.
Researchers are studying thousands of new treatments and you could be a part of finding a cure while accessing the newest treatments for Anxiety.
Anxiety starts in the brain. You might think about something coming up in the future that you’re worried about or that scares you. Your mind interprets these thoughts as danger and activates the in-built fight-or-flight response, which is your brain's way of keeping you safe. A part of your brain called the amygdala which signals to your body that you are in danger, activating your sympathetic nervous system (SNS) to trigger this response.
These signals also cause your adrenal glands to release a hormone called adrenaline. Adrenaline raises your blood pressure and increases your energy stores, causing a number of the common symptoms of anxiety.
These symptoms include:
Although anxiety starts in the brain, it can affect your entire body by setting off a cascade of physical reactions.
These functions of the fight-or-flight response are essential for keeping you safe from danger. However, when this response is triggered by an anxious thought, your body is pumped full of adrenaline, but there is nothing for you to escape from or try to fight.
To stop the fight-or-flight response and relieve your anxious mind and body, you need to be able to take your mind off of these anxious thoughts and regulate your nervous system to reduce the rush of adrenaline.
Exercise is one of the best ways to help relieve anxiety, both physically and mentally. When you exercise, your body releases natural opioids called endorphins, also called the ‘feel-good’ hormones. Regular aerobic exercise,² like swimming, running, and cycling, has been shown to reduce anxiety.
Research has shown that meditation can relieve anxiety by reducing the levels of cortisol³(your main stress hormone) and adrenaline circulating in your body. Pranayama is the practice of breath regulation and is a core concept of both yoga and meditation. Pranayama can help to regulate your nervous system⁴ which in turn reduces or prevents symptoms associated with anxiety.
There are many different types of meditation you can try. Three common types that can help relieve your anxious mind and body are:
Taking deep diaphragmatic breaths is one of the simplest ways to bring a sense of calm and control to your body and mind. Slow breaths that fill your diaphragm help to regulate your nervous system, lessening SNS dominance and stopping the fight-or-flight response.
To practice this breathing technique, sit somewhere comfortable and place one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Take a minute to notice your breathing. It's likely that only your chest is moving – short, shallow breaths are a common symptom of anxiety. Try taking a slow, deep breath in, feeling the air fill your stomach, then your chest. Slowly breathe out. Repeat for a few minutes until your mind and body feel relaxed.
Some essential oils can cause a release of endorphins and have anti-anxiety properties, including:
Facial sprays and hand creams are two of the most common cosmetic products that often contain essential oils. Try applying a product infused with one of the calming essential oils listed above, as the oil will be absorbed through your skin and can help to relieve your anxiety symptoms.
Alternatively, you can add a few drops of one of these essential oils to a steam diffuser to fill your home or another space with the scent. Inhaling essential oils can also bring relief for anxiety.
Research has shown that exploring nature⁵ or even just getting some fresh air and spending time outdoors can reduce SNS activity, blood pressure, and cortisol levels, all of which will help relieve your anxious mind and body.
Muscle relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and massage are often used by therapists as an effective way to relieve anxiety. Research has shown that massages can reduce cortisol⁶ levels, which may help to reduce stress and anxiety.
A simple way to relax your muscles and relieve anxiety at home is to stretch and take a warm bath or shower.
Research⁷ shows that working out what is causing your anxiety and making a plan to solve it can help to relieve anxiety.
Try writing down everything that is on your mind while you are feeling anxious and pick out one of these points. Next, make a plan of how you can work on this issue to reduce the anxiety it causes you. For example, you might have written down ‘science project.’ You could make a plan outlining the steps to take to get this project done.
Make sure to pick just one thing to start with. You can always do this exercise again, but trying to tackle too many things at once could make you more overwhelmed.
Many people find that yoga helps to relieve their anxiety and promote inner peace. Yoga affects your body in a similar way to meditation, and can help regulate your nervous system. There are many beginner-friendly yoga tutorials online, as well as more advanced ones, depending on your level. You may also want to try in-person yoga classes with a friend to boost your emotional wellbeing with social connection.
A study⁸ found that people who spent about 20 minutes writing about their thoughts, feelings, and trauma for two to five days experienced significant benefits in their emotional health. It might help to keep a journal by your bed to write in whenever you feel anxious. If you often feel anxious when you leave the house, you could try taking a small notebook with you for whenever you need to use it.
Increased caffeine intake has been linked to increased stress and anxiety.⁹ If you struggle with anxiety, it might be beneficial for you to reduce the amount of caffeine you consume. If you regularly consume caffeine, your body may be used to it and so you may not need to cut it out completely, but make sure to monitor how much you are consuming and notice if you feel less anxious when you have less caffeine.
Grounding your body, being present, and observing your surroundings enable you to signal to your body that there is no real danger in your environment and it can stop the fight-or-flight response.
One easy grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method. To try this technique, simply identify each of the following:
Five things you can see
Four things you can feel
Three things you can hear
Two things you can smell
One thing you can taste
This powerful technique takes less than two minutes to complete, and when you’re done, you will feel much less anxious.
Research has shown that watching cartoon movies¹⁰ helps to relieve anxiety in children. Whether you’re a child, teenager, or an adult, you could watch your favorite cartoon or give a new one a go to help to relieve your anxious mind and body.
Listening to music can affect your nervous system¹¹ and lower psychological stress, therefore reducing anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety affects not only your mind, but your entire body. If you are struggling with anxiety, there are many different techniques you can use to relax your mind and body and relieve your symptoms. These techniques range from yoga, meditation, and aromatherapy to music, journaling, reducing caffeine, and more.
If, after trying these techniques, you are still struggling with your anxiety, make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and find the right treatment to help prevent future anxiety issues.
Anxiety disorders | National Alliance on Mental Health